Earl Seagars, Pilot
387th Bomb Group, 558th Bomb Squadron
1st Lt. Earl J. Seagars 558th Bomb Squadron 387th Bombardment Group (M)
B-26 Martin Marauder Aircraft "Coky Flo" Chipping Ongar, England May 1944
BARKSDALE FIELD, SHREVEPORT. LOUISIANA
Barksdale Field was a huge sprawling airbase. There were rows upon rows of cigar shaped Martin Marauder twin engine B-26 training aircraft painted in dark green camouflage on the cement aprons in front of the hangers. They had large white numbers on their fuselage and tail. It was a combat crew training base. Crews were formed here. Each member with his specialized skills would come together uniting to create a combat crew. My orders stated to report to the Commanding Officer of the 335th Bomb Group. The Sergeant had me sign in and assigned me a bunk in an adjoining barracks building. He told me to report the following morning at 9am for crew assignment.
I was up early the next morning because I wanted to look up a close friend of mine, Sgt. William Murphy who was stationed on the base. I located Bill in the latrine. He was shaving and saw my reflection in the mirror. He turned around with soap on his face and a razor in his hand. "My God, Earl you got your wings and your Second Lieutenant Bars and you are a new shavetail. Now, I'll have to salute you!" "What are you doing here at Barksdale? Are you just passing through?" I said "No, Bill, I am to be stationed here. I will be in training as a Co-Pilot on the Martin Marauder B-26 with a combat crew". He gasped! "What! A co-pilot on the B-26; oh, no! Earl you cannot come here. That B-26 is a dangerous airplane. We have accidents all the time, mostly tragic and fatal. It's not called the Widow Maker for nothing! We just had a French crew last week - something went terrible wrong and they augured in and bought the farm". I never heard that expression before. "Earl, please ask for a transfer, go flying anyplace else, or any airplane but get out of here. If anything happened to you, Oh! My God: how would I ever tell your mother and father?" (Bill would later attend officer's candidate school, become a 2nd. Lt in administration and accounting. He stayed in the service after the war. He was on a mobile traveling accounting team that reviewed the accounting records and procedures of Air Force Officers Clubs all over the world. He retired after twenty eight years of service as a full bird Colonel.)
Bill was a long time family friend. Before he went into the Army Air Force, he was Office Manager of an Arrowhead Springs water plant in the Arroyo Seco Canyon section of Los Angeles. It was a small bottling plant, Bill did everything. He did the accounting, checked in the tank trucks coming from Arrowhead Springs ninety miles away, saw that they were emptied into the large storage tanks, check the bottling of the water into the 5 gallon containers, checked out the trucks that delivered the 5 gallon containers of water to the homes and sweep the floor. His real talent was in accounting.
Our families met over seven years previously because Bill's single mother worked for the Pacific Electric Railroad Company, the same company my father worked for. She was a railroad car cleaner. My father was a mechanic in the Torrance repair shop. He was a railroad car brake specialist. He sometimes brought home blocks of asbestos for me to play with. Little did we know then, what asbestos dust would do to you. My father was also a steady cigarette smoker and died of stomach cancer before he was 60 years of age.
The Pacific Electric Railroad Company had a unique place in the history of transportation in Los Angeles and Southern California area. Railroad magnet, Henry Huntington, organized and built the Big Red Electric Car system. He took over the old Los Angeles and Redondo Railway that started in 1905 and built it into a major company. The railroad system resembled a huge wheel with the hub in Los Angeles and spokes that ran out to all the major cities. To the north the train went through the Cahuenga Pass to San Fernando Valley, another railroad line to Glendale and Burbank, another to Pasadena and Sierra Madre, another to Glendora and Azusa, another line headed east stopping at Pomona, Riverside and San Bernardino, another line ran southeast to Santa Ana and lines going south went through Watts (a major junction) to San Pedro, Long Beach, Huntington Beach and turned around at Newport Beach in Orange County. The railroad tracks that went to the west headed for Santa Monica, Ocean Park and Venice. Other lines went to Culver City, Playa Del Rey, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach along the beautiful sandy beaches facing the Pacific Ocean. Another line ran from Redondo Beach to north Torrance, Gardena and at the center connecting point in Watts joined the main lines into Los Angeles. It was a wonderful pre-war system that offered cheap transportation to commuting workers in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
Henry Huntington liked Redondo Beach. It had at one time been a trading ship port. It was a resort town, it had a great fishing bay, fishing barges permanently anchored offshore and a commercial pier. Huntington was a benevolent paternalistic employer and treated his employees as a family. Wages were very low in the 1920's and he paid only the going rate. He decided to develop the Redondo waterfront and built a large Moorish style pavilion in 1907 that housed the worlds largest indoor warm salt water heated plunge. It was divided into three pools, children, adults and a 9 foot deep diving pool. The diving pool had a 1 meter springboard, 3 meter and 6 meter diving platforms. It was all tile and the pool dividers had warm salt water fountains. The boiler building was next door and as teenagers we would climb on the breakwater rocks and go under the pier and see the huge warm water pipes connected to the walls of the plunge. It was a secret hide away and you could change into or out of your bathing suit. Redondo was a wonderful town for a person to grow up in.
Mr. Huntington also built another huge Moorish styled building along the front. It had retail stores on the ground floor and the second story was an immense dance hall that bands played on Saturday night. We watched our parents dance and they taught their children the one step, two steps then join.
Salaries dropped even lower during the depression years of 1929-1938, millions of people all over the United States and the world were out of work. My father was just happy to work two days a week for the Pacific Electric and on the other days he worked in a cooperative where people planted vegetables, worked in the fields and shared in the harvest to put food on the table. He worked hard and was a good provider. Mother was a great cook. We never went hungry. There were four children in our family.
The Pacific Electric had an administration building at 6th and Main Street in Los Angeles. All the P.E. family had free Big Red Car railroad passes. On Saturday our family rode the train into Los Angeles to the P.E. Club. The ground floor had a movie theater, on the sixth floor a cafeteria, the seventh floor lounge rooms, a Billiard Room to play pool. There was a comfortable oak wood library filled with National Geographic magazines, books, newspapers and above the leather overstuffed chairs and lounges were wild animal heads from Africa and a 9 foot Swordfish caught off Catalina Island (just 30 miles off the coast). On the eighth level was a dance floor and sometimes a local band to dance to. We watched our parents waltzing around the floor — and took our first steps here. It was our families and many, many other P.E. family's entertainment center during those difficult depression years. All this was free. The meals were charged at cost. This is where we met Bill Murphy and his mother and became fast and long time friends. Bill would come to our home in Redondo Beach where we would go to the beach, the plunge or to a movie. When Bill was 16 years of age he was involved in an automobile accident and ended up in the hospital. The doctors had to fuse two of his neck vertebrae. That restricted a full swivel of his head. He would have to turn his whole upper body to turn his head. But we loved him and he was a part of our family. On a couple of occasions he dated my 16year old sister, Eunice taking her to the movies.
I never questioned Bill of how he passed the physical
examination to get into the Army Air Corps with his stiff restricted neck. All I
know is that he did! In December 1942 when I was an Aviation Cadet at the
Aviation Cadet Classification Center in San Antonio, Texas, Corporal William
Murphy stopped by one weekend and we had a great visit. Now Bill was a Sergeant
at Barksdale Field and I surprised him in the latrine with the results mentioned
above. He said the B-26 has a bad name. Some called it the Baltimore Whore built
by the Martin Aircraft Company in Baltimore, Maryland and with it's short wings
"it didn't have any visible means of support!"
COMBAT CREW ASSIGNMENT
On that first crew meeting at Barksdale Field I was assigned to my first pilot. He was 2nd. Lt. Edward K. Gallagher, Jr. He was Irish, all 6'4" of him. Standing next to him my 5" 9 1/2" looked a foot shorter than him. He had an Irish smile and occasionally told an Irish joke. He was always business like and in complete control of himself and his feelings. Flying to him was a serious business. He did not smoke nor did I ever see him take a drink. He was a fellow you wanted to know better and you respected as your first pilot. He grew up and went to school in Long Island, New York. He used to say, "Long Garland." The Queens had a large Irish population. Many of New York's finest policemen and firemen came from and lived in the "Queens". Several members of the same family were one or the other in those occupations. Ed's dad was a policeman.
December 7, 1941 when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor that was the catalyst that sparked patriotism in American's youth and they responded in mass to sign up in the military to avenge this great wrong and destruction to American lives and property.
Ed felt like we all did. He asked himself "what can I do?" He signed up in the Army Air Force as a military policeman while awaiting his call as an Aviation Cadet. He wanted to fly. He went through his primary, basic and advance twin engine flying schools. Upon graduation as a Second Lieutenant and receiving his wings, he was to report to Dodge City, Kansas for transition training in the Martin B-26 Medium Bomber. Some twin engine pilots went to the transition school at Del Rio, Texas. Del Rio was a miserable place. It was a land of sand, cactus, hot, muggy weather and had high humidity. It was just to close to the Gulf of Mexico and the Mexican border. When the pilots completed their transition in the B-26 they would be assigned to Barksdale Field or to Lake Charles, Louisiana or Florida to form and train a combat ready crew.
The Navigator-Bombardier on our crew was 2nd. Lt. Frank E. McKeown. He was from Ohio. Like an engineer he was always analyzing and studying or practicing his duties to sharpen his skills to be the best. He was good. He had been trained in the Norden Bombsight and always aimed to set his bombs right on target, even if it required a quick last second adjustment.
S/Sgt. Donald F. Dwelley was from Ohio and had been an automobile mechanic before the service. He was an excellent mechanic and we all learned a lot from him. As engineer-gunner on combat missions his position would be in the top turret with the two 50 caliber machine guns. S/Sgt. George E. Ries was from Arkansas and was our radioman. He kept in contact with the base field and other aircraft during flight. His position when on a combat mission would be the handling of the two waist 50 caliber machine guns in the rear of the fuselage, one gun out one waist window and the other out the opposite waist window.
Sgt. Benjamin F. Powell was from Kansas City. He was our tail-gunner and youngest member. Now the real work begins. Ed, of course had been flying the B-26 but the rest of us had our first visit inside and outside the fuselage of a B-26. The first flights for the a crew were always carefully planned and had a Barksdale permanent party instructor pilot to go over the step by step procedures of the duties of each member of the crew. The instructor started out with the "walk around" inspection. Since Ed had already been flying the B-26 for two months in transition school, this "walk around" was primarily for the co-pilots and other members of the crew. He started at the nose of the aircraft and then moved over to the left engine.
1. He said to look for any damage to the fuselage nose, the leading edges of the wings and feeling the propeller blade for nicks and check for any apparent damage.
2. The main landing gear had chocks that restrained the aircraft and may have safety clamps on the struts with a noticeable red cloth ribbons that must be removed before flight.
3. Check the engine cowling by feeling and looking to see that it was installed correctly and was locked secure.
4. Check the pitot air speed tube and remove the red cover before flight.
5. Have a ground crewman in the aircraft move the ailerons, elevators and rudder for ease of control and you observe their movements outside the aircraft.
6. Have the crew pull each of the propellers through rotation several times to equalize the oil in the lower cylinders.
Then the entire crew climbed up into the aircraft. If your position was in the front of the aircraft you would enter the aircraft through the nose gear into the pilots compartment, the engineer; radio and tail gunners usually crawled in the aft fuselage waist windows.
After Ed and I put on our seat belts and adjusted our feet for the full control of the rudder pedals, the instructor went through the procedural checks prior to starting engines. The instructor stated you have been through primary, basic and advance flying schools and the check list is to be mandatory before every flight you take in the B-26 - and it's all the more important in this aircraft. Some of the key points were:
a. Check the form 1 and 1A for the maintenance condition of the airplane and look at the aircraft's previous "write up's".
b. Check with the aid of your engineer crewperson to see that fuel tank valves in the bomb bay are turned "ON" and wiggle the switching mechanism to make sure it is set in its notch.
c. Check hydraulic fluid level
d. Check emergency bomb bay door opening pressure and emergency brake pressure.
e. Check the cabin heating control to be sure it says "OFF".
Now came the pre-start engine check list:
1. Turn Generator line switches to "ON".
2. Have a crew member unlock controls and remove the red flags.
3. Check the flight controls — move the rudders pedals, push-pull the wheel back and forth and turn the wheel to the left and right for freedom of movement, proper travel and observe the aileron controls movement.
4. Have the co-pilot close and lock the overhead hatches.
5. Set brakes for parking, lock brakes.
6. Check controls, trim tabs set, set engine cowling flap wide open.
7. Check to see if outside ground crew and the ground power source of the "putt-putt" is connected, battery switches are "OFF" and propeller switches are set to "AUTOMATIC".
The instructor pilot also stated that the co-pilot's seat was on a track so it could slide forward or backwards. He stated, "This will allow you to get the right length for your legs and your feet on the rudder pedals, but remember you must slide your seat all the way back to allow the bombardier to enter the nose compartment. In case of an emergency you must react quickly and slide your seat all the way back so he can escape from that trap up front. He will have to snap back the rudder pedals and crawl out under the co-pilot control wheel. His life will depend on the quick reaction of the co-pilot to help him get out of the bombardier's compartment. Since I was the co-pilot he turned to me and looked me straight in the eye and said, "you are the co-pilot and never forget that". And I never did. How prophetic and predictive he was. On my 40th mission when we had serous problems, it all came back to me.
Earl having fun at a 558th Bomb Group Reunion
With the instructor kneeling between the pilot and co-pilot, the
instructor began the "Start the engine procedure." The "putt-putt" was fired up
by the ground crewman; Ed turned on the left engine switch and engaged the
starter. The engine let out a cloud of smoke, the engine fired and Ed made
adjustments on throttles and the left engine hummed away. Now it was time to
start the right engine through the same process. Both engines were powerful
Pratt and Whitney R-2800's with a loud roar that vibrated the aircraft, it was
like two caged animals that were raring to go and be set free.
The instructor had Ed call the tower for permission to taxi; Ed guided the airplane to the end of the 10,000 foot runway. The aircraft was cocked at a 45° angle to the runway; the brakes were set and each engine run up for a check with an eye to the magneto instruments drop. Twenty degrees of flap were put down and a check with the crew to make sure everyone was buckled in. The tower cleared us and Ed taxi out and lined up on the centerline of the runway. The toe brakes were set and the engines were run up to maximum power of 52 inches. The toe brakes were released and the aircraft roared down the runway gathering speed. At 155 mph, the aircraft left the runway; the instructor pilot said "when the pilot gives you the thumbs up" the co-pilot release the landing control knob and pulls it up. We could feel the nose wheel come up and snap as it locked, a visual check of both engine nacelles were made as the main wheels disappeared into the engine nacelles, doors closed and the green light came on the instrument panel. Ed with his right hand palm up moved his hand up and down and the instructor pilot motion to me to "milk the flaps" up very slowly. We were airborne and climbing. This was my first ride in a Martin Marauder B-26 Medium Bomber Aircraft. It appeared big and very heavy to me after the single engine North American AT-6's. It was solidly built, fast as bombers go and required a well trained crew that respected this airplane, was always on the alert and never let their guard down or become complacent. It had stable characteristic in flight, a slight pressure of the hands on the wheel and feet on the rudder controls and the reaction was smooth. There was no automatic pilot therefore it demanded constant attention to fly it at all times.
We started an intense routine of flying in the morning and ground school in the afternoon or vice versa. Then there were physical training periods to stay in shape. One of the classes was for co-pilots because almost every co-pilot did not have twin engine advance school experience or the B-26 transitional training. So there was plenty of catch up work to be done to learn about the B-26's systems; hydraulics, fuel, electrical and fire extinguishes systems. We went over the B-26 manual of operations, the landing gear and supercharger. It was a simple two-stage supercharger - it was either on or off. It pumped up the air and forced the pressurized oxygen into the engines for higher altitude flying in the rarefied air. There were sessions on the fuel tanks location in the wings and of their construction of neoprene rubber and self sealing characteristics. This was a self insuring thought if and when the enemy fighter aircraft attacks you or the German 88 MM anti-aircraft guns fired their shells at you and when they exploded into thousands of pieces of shrapnel, called "flak", it would be nice to have self sealing fuel tanks. We were instructed in the firing of 50 caliber machine guns, armament, bomb loading, navigation and weather.
I told 1st. Pilot Ed Gallagher that I wanted to be the best co-pilot I could be but I wanted to be a first pilot too. I wanted to be in control of this airplane. I wanted to fly this aircraft from the left seat. He told me to continue working hard, learn all about the aircraft and we shall see what we can do for you. I wanted to acquire all the flight time and experiences that were possible so I went to the Operation Office then the Flight Engineering Office and volunteered to fly on my day off with the engineer test pilots. After an aircraft had major engine overhaul, exchange or mechanical repairs it had to be test flown by an engineering pilot and be signed off signifying his approval. This would be an opportunity to log flight time.
All through the military from my first day in the Aviation Cadet Corp. we all had been told by seasoned military personnel "never volunteer for anything". It was like a cardinal sin to do so. Bad things could happen. But I did. I wanted the flight time and experience.
ONE SATURDAY NIGHT IN SHEVEPORT. LOUISIANA
I was scheduled to fly with a Captain Engineering Officer on one Sunday morning. Saturday evening I took a shower, put on my Class A Uniform with a cap, blouse, shirt, tie, pink pants and shiny shoes and took the shuttle bus into Shreveport. I had been to town before and it was alive with soldiers, bars, dance floors and young women. The best hotel hi town was The Washington Youree Hotel. It had a plush lobby, was on the expensive side, was triple AAA rated and had a great bar. The bar was designed in a semi-oval shape with the bartender in the center and customers on bar stools all around. It was a pleasant place to hang out with other flying officers from Barksdale. The lighting was soft and air condition system almost cleared the air of cigarette smoke. Fellow officers told me it was a "good pick up place".
My mother and father sent their four children (two boys and two girls) to Sunday school every Sunday. The Methodist Church was just a block away from my home. I went to Sunday school or church until I was 20 years of age and sang in the young people's choir. When I was twelve, I got enough courage and nervously walked down to the minister at the front of the church and accepted Christ.
I never believed in a one night stands. I wanted to get to know my girlfriends, establish a friendship, go on dates and meet her family and parents. During high school I dated girls occasionally. I had to study and work hard to maintain accepted grades. They didn't come easy to me. The economical times were tough on my parents so I delivered the Los Angeles Times newspaper in the early morning hours before school. I bought my first car and it also gave me spending money.
The summer before my high school senior year I was a lifeguard at the P.E. Plunge and met Lola Mae. Her family had just moved to Redondo from Minnesota. We dated off and on for the next 3 years. It was nothing serious, we never went steady. We had good times together and often went to Ocean Park Ballroom to dance to famous Lawrence Welks' accordion music his band and the songs of the Lennon sisters. She was cute, attractive, nice petite figure and a high school pom pom girl. During the summer when I was 21 Lola Mae and I spent time at the beach and swimming hi the ocean. I had the use of a friend's rented beach house and we ended up in the shower together and both of us had our first affair. I just could not let it get serious or commit myself. I was too young. I wasn't ready to settle down. I felt that I had to accomplish something first. I felt that God had a plan for me. I had to follow my heart and mind. Women just didn't fit into this equation. I had failed my first year of college. I knew I must go back and graduate. College people were getting the better jobs and better salaries. The next time I would devote every ounce of energy and devotion I could muster. Nothing would interfere including girlfriends. At the time I was working at Northrop Aircraft Company in Hawthorne, California and I was in the sheet metal shop making airplanes and saving money. We were building warplanes for Great Britain who was at war with Germany and its allies. John Northrop was a brilliant Aeronautical Engineer and I made parts for his flying wing and the Northrop night fighter the "Black Widow"P-62. We made fighter planes for Iraq which at that tune was under British administration. There was one good thing that came out of this work. I joined the Northrop Flying Club and reached my private pilots license. It looked like the United States would soon be in the war.
If so I would join the Army Air Corp and fly the Northrop night fighter that "Black Widow" that I was helping to build.
Now, here it was 1943 and the war was on and I was a pilot stationed at Barksdale Field, Shreveport, LA. I was learning to fly a B-26 and in town on Saturday night. I got off the shuttle bus and checked into a small comfortable hotel on Main street, then had dinner nearby. After dinner I returned back to the doorway to the hotel where several other officers were standing by and smoking. I stopped and talked to them and we watched the foot traffic on the sidewalk. Coming down the street I noticed an attractive young lady who was being followed by two enlisted men. They were throwing slurs at her, talking loud and vulgar and trying to catch up to her which only made her walk faster. I sized up the situation and immediately stepped out onto the sidewalk, walked over to her put my left arm around her waist and guided her past the officers in the doorway into the lobby. As we passed the registration desk, I took out a $20.00 bill, gave it to the man behind the counter, leaned over and said, "Bring a small bottle of bourbon, coke or seven up mix to room 212. We walked up the Stan's and I could tell she had a couple of drinks but didn't hesitate. We opened the door to room 212, went in and sat down. She was a very attractive young lady, olive completion, dark hair and a nice figure. I asked her what happened. She said "I came into town tonight to dance and these two enlisted men bought me a drink, danced with me and with the second drink started getting rough and demanding. They had hands like octopus. They were zeroing in on me and they frightened me so I left. As you saw they followed me down the street shouting obscenities at me".
There was a knock at the door and the bellboy delivered ice, the bourbon and coke. I mixed us drinks. I asked her, "Where do you live?" She answered, "Bossier City, but the town is full of 101st. Airborne Enlisted men and they are rough and tough. I work in an oil company office, but leave that town and come to Shreveport where the dance halls are nicer and maybe I'll find an officer and a gentlemen to dance with". She went on further "all the eligible young men are gone off to war from Bossier City, the men are either too young or too old and the service men are always hitting on you and demanding. I just get sick and tired of the whole mess". She put her head down and I though she was going to cry. She said, "All I want to have is a good young man who will treat me with respect and who wants to have a steady relationship". I hugged her and held her real tight in my arms.
We finished our drinks, I turned the lights down low and took her into my arms and kissed her. She didn't resist. I hugged her tight and kissed her again and again. I removed her dress, stockings and shoes. Kissed her again and undid her bra and slid off her black panties. She was nineteen years old. Her age was perfect for my 23 years. She weighed about 128 pounds and stood 5'6" in all her nakedness. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. She had long dark hair from shoulder blade to shoulder blade, firmly shaped breasts, a gorgeous figure and nice shapely legs. I quickly disrobed and body to naked body wrapped my arms around her and whispered "you are beautiful, just beautiful!" I kissed each of her red nipples. Sat her on the bed, put on a condom and we had some sensational love making.
The alarm clock went off at 7 am; I jumped up and took a quick shower. From my first week as an aviation cadet in classification center, to primary flying school to basic and advance we had sex lectures at each location. The colored slide show and the medical instructors were graphic and serious. Some of the pictures showed male genital organs eaten away by the disease of syphilis, gonorrhea or other sexual diseases. It frightened you enough for you to take precautionary measures or don't have sex. But young healthy, vigorous males had plenty of testosterone that stimulated their desire to have sex anyway. The medics supplied us with the dough boy prophylactic kits with instructions on the insertion of various jellies and coating the penis with ointments and soothing it in gauze and putting it in a "bull Durham" sack. So I did the treatment, shaved and got dressed. My beautiful young lady was half asleep. I leaned over, kissed her and said "good morning, you were wonderful last night. I have to go flying. I have an engineering test flight of an hour or two. Have a leisurely morning. Here is ten dollars for breakfast and wait for me; I'll be back before noon, that's the hotel check out time. If I am not back by noon something unusual has changed my plans".
I took my small overnight bag, closed the door behind me and left. I grabbed the shuttle bus, went to my BOQ, put on my flight suit and reported to the engineering office. The captain and I looked over the paperwork, went out to the aircraft, made a very careful "walk around" inspection of the airplane, talked to the ground crewmen who preflight the plane and knew about the mechanical repairs that had been done. We looked over the form 1A, and went through the check list. Fired up the engines, called the tower and taxied out to the runway. We turned the aircraft 45°, ran up each engine to high 53 inches twice watching the magneto drop. The right engine was the one repaired and it was the one that showed a magneto drop, but within limits. We ran the engine up for the third time, it was still acceptable. Then got approval from the tower and took off down the runway. The Captain moved the trim tab holding the aircraft on the runway, a little bit longer and built up plenty of speed. It lifted off and we were airborne. We left the field pattern and climbed to 5,000 feet and throttled back - that's when the right engine started acting up. It kept cutting in and out of power — the propeller at times just wind milled. The captain was ready to cut off the engine and go through the single engine procedure, but it would kick back in, popping and banging. We headed back to the field, the engine kicking hi and out of power. He notified the tower we had a problem. They cleared us for an emergency landing. We landed and talked to the mechanic and it was back to the repair hanger. It would require a complete and through mechanical check. They were taking off the engine cowling when we left. So much for that engineering flight!
I returned to the BOQ, sat down on my bed and I just sat there and realized something was wrong. A cloud of guilt descended and enveloped me. It struck me that I had committed a moral wrong. There was a deep set feeling of remorse involving my actions with that beautiful young woman. I had gone to Sunday school and church ever since I was 5 years old. I believed in God, I had accepted Him and I had let Him down. I knew what was right and wrong. I was personally responsible for my own moral actions. I had sinned. My mind raced with negative and positive thoughts. I wanted desperately to see her again, but what a guilt trip I was having. I got out of the building into the fresh air. I wandered out to the obstacle course and started walking and walking. When I finally looked at my watch it was noon. I hurriedly ran to a telephone and called the hotel. I talked to the clerk at the reception desk. He rang the room but there was no answer. Then he said, "The key was turned in".
I never saw her again. I never got her telephone number or address. I never even asked her for her full name. I have never forgotten her. She keeps returning to my thoughts.
One cold and snowy night a year and a half later when I was a B-26 flight instructor at Dodge City, Kansas, I sat down and did a colored pen and ink sketch of her beautiful naked figure. It seems that I could not, would not, ever forget her. She still haunts my memory today for what might have been a beautiful long term romance.
THE MARTIN MARAUDER B-26 MEDIUM BOMBER AIRPLANE
Our training as a crew continued with day and some night flying and more classes. We learned a lot more about the B-26 Martin Marauder.
The conception, development and construction of the Martin Marauder B-26 airplane is an interesting story full of ups and downs and problems.
In 1939 the Army Air Corps was very aware and deeply concerned by the German invasion of many European countries and the importance and success the German Air Force was having. The Army Air Corps on January 23,1939 issued specifications for a new twin engine bomber to be ordered. It would be a five-place bomber and required speeds of from 250 to 350 miles per hours, a range of 3000 miles, a service ceiling from 20,000 to 30,000 feet, carry a maximum bomb load of 4,000 pounds and armament of four .30 caliber machine guns. Martin Aircraft had been producing the old and slow Martin B-10 and B-18 medium bombers and were very interested in bidding on this aircraft.
Martin had a 26 year old aeronautical engineer named Payton Magruder who was a graduate of the University of Alabama in his design group with new innovation ideas. He took the Army's requirements and drafted out the B-26 Aircraft. It had a circular torpedo shaped fuselage and a tricycle landing gear. Martin liked what he saw and made him project engineer. He gave him his best engineering and manufacturing brains.
The Army had confidence in Martins' ability to do the job and awarded a contract for 201 B-26 Aircraft. Tune was of the essence. The war in Europe was going from bad to worst. There wasn't time for a prototype. The first production model was the first one to fly and was the test model. It had to work. Creeping engineering changes, additions, altered specifications by the Army Air Corp took there toll on the B-26 performance. Then there was a series of B-26 nose wheel strut failures. The strut was strengthened. The new Pratt and Whitney more powerful R 2800-41 engines were installed and the defensive armament was changed to 12 .50 caliber machine guns. The original short wing B-26 developed serious problems if there was an engine failure on take off. It was an overloaded airplane and could not take off with one good engine. The results was a crash and a loss of a crew. The aircraft picked up some bad names such as, "The Baltimore Whore", or "The Flying Prostitute" because the aircraft was built in Baltimore, Maryland and with its short wings, "It didn't seem to have a visible means of support". So many young inexperienced crews were killed in training that it was called the "Widow Maker" and "One a day in Tampa Bay" with the training of crews in Tampa, Florida. Other derogatory nicknames were "Flying Coffin" or "B-Crash". What a reputation to live down. With the B Model the wing span was increased from 65 feet to 71 feet. With all the problems and bad publicity, Senator Harry Truman and his Senatorial Investigating Committee got into the act and condemned the B-26 and ordered production to cease immediately.
Green pilots just graduating from Twin Engine Advanced Flying Schools where they were flying training aircraft that took off and landed at less than 90 miles an hour were asked to fly an aircraft with 10 tunes the weight, with take off and landing speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour. Trouble was also brewing because the aircrafts thoroughly experienced trained pilots and service mechanics were being sent to the war fronts overseas. Their replacements were newly trained pilots and aircraft mechanics just out of school. Meanwhile the aircraft began to be overloaded with equipment and the requirements requested for combat at the war front lines that were changing the weight of the aircraft. The increase wing loading upped the landing speeds and the stalling speeds. Accidents would happen with inexperienced pilots. With the help of Army Chief Test Pilot, Major Vincent W. Burnett (an old barnstorming pilot and a previous Martin Aircraft test pilot) and Brig. General James H. Doolittle's staff and Air Force Commanding General H. H. Arnold, the Air Safety Board endorsed General Doolittle's investigated report.
The accidents were found due to these major causes:
1. Inexperience of the pilots.
2. Inexperience of maintenance mechanics
3. Overloading beyond the weight when the bomber a twin engine plane, could fly on one engine.
To correct the problems an intensive training program was undertaken to:
1. Train and retrain all B-26 pilots in proper procedures of take off, flying, landing, stalling and single engine procedures and using correct techniques.
2. All maintenance mechanics were retrained, instructed by Martin Master Mechanics in the maintenance of the airplane.
3. Martin Aircraft sent engineers to show and train the aircraft crews and mechanics how to minimize the problems of overloading, by paying proper and scientific attention and using weight and balance slide rules and procedures to maintain the aircrafts center of gravity.
Doolittle has stated, "The Marauder was a bit more difficult to master than contemporary twin-engine types, but that was no problem as long as proper respect for the airplane was maintained".
The Marauder had been spared, saved and production continued.
We, in training at Barksdale Field, could never understand why the upper echelon of Generals responsible for training programs chose the B-26 for low level bombing. But worst yet, why did they use such a big, large size target twin engine aircraft as a torpedo plane. If the plane was shot down there was the loss of 5-6 men. Some of the first B-26 Groups sent to Australia in 1942 used old primitive D-8 bombsights and low level trial and error methods. There were some abnormal losses with that program.
THE B-26 LOW LEVEL COMBAT MISSIONS
The Battle of Midway on June 4-7, 1942 is a fascinating story of naval intelligence that turned the tide against the Japanese plan to invade Midway and complete their conquest of the South Pacific. In early March 1942, Naval intelligent centers in Australia and Pearl Harbor by sharing translated messages, studying patterns and breaking the Japanese purple code were able to predict future Japanese operations. On 4th of March 1942 Navy intelligence personnel noticed that the letters "AF" began appearing in partially decoded Japanese messages. A young naval officer in Pearl Harbor, Captain Joseph J. Roachfort suspected that the Japanese were careless with changing code designators and to check out this theory, sent a false message indicating that Midway Island was having problems with desalination equipment. Later Captain Roachfort and his unit at Pearl Harbor intercepted a message from the Japanese reporting that "AF" was short of fresh water. It had worked! Now Admiral Nimitz knew the Japanese planned to attack Midway. Naval intelligence had lost contact with a Japanese Fleet of four Aircraft Carriers, battleships, cruises and destroyers that had disappeared into the North Pacific. Admiral Nimitz now set up his plan of action. Midway was reinforced with Marines and all available aircraft was dispatched from Hawaii. This is why the four B-26's that navy torpedo racks had been installed under their fuselage were sent to Midway.
On June 6, 1942 four B-26s equipped with torpedoes departed Midway Island to attack the Japanese fleet. They dove down to 200 feet, received heavy ack-ack fire from the fleet surface vessels, were attack by six Japanese Zero fighters, they shot down two of them, dropped their torpedoes at an aircraft carrier and flew into a low cloud formation to escape the Japanese fighters. One of the B-26s on his torpedo run dropped his torpedo but could not avoid the carrier turning into him so he flew at top speed down the full length of the enemy aircraft carriers flight deck from bow to stern scattering Japs right and left and escaped when he flew into the low hanging clouds. Only two of the four B-26's staggered back to Midway. One of the aircraft had 500 holes in it, the other 186 flak and bullet holes, both aircraft were junked. Not one of the four torpedoes released made a hit. They all missed.
At Barksdale Field, we also read about the first B-26 Group that arrived in England. It was the 322nd. Bomb Group and their first mission was to attack the Velsen Generating Station at Ijmuiden, Holland. On May 14, 1943 twelve airplanes flew through heavy flak and ground fire from 100 to 300 feet above the surface and placed their 20 minute delay-fused 500 pound bombs on the target. A low-altitude attack had been chosen for the mission for two reasons: to take advantage of the element of surprise to escape detection, and for accuracy in placing the bombs. The delayed bombs enabled the Dutch workers to escape but also allowed the Germans time to defuse or remove the bombs before any appreciable damage occurred.
Consequently, a second mission to Ijmuiden, Holland was scheduled for May 17, 1943. Again at low level. Group Officers objected because now the alerted Germans would be waiting. Their objections were over ruled, the mission took off as scheduled. Eleven aircraft took off. One airplane aborted due to electrical failure and returned back to the air field. Heavy flak and ground fire was encountered again and 6 aircraft were shot down. The remaining four airplanes, after dropping their bombs headed for home over the English Channel where they were all shot down into the sea by enemy ME-109 fighters. It was a disaster.
All B-26 operations in Europe were discontinued until better tactics could be worked out. The Colonels and the Generals got together. Norden bombsights were installed in lead aircraft and the group was put through intensive training for bombing from medium altitudes (10,000-15,000 feet in a group formation). This was the purpose for which the B-26 airplane had been originally designed. However, at Barksdale Field in September 1943 we were still practicing low level tactics, skip bombing and low level strafing. There is always a delay hi making changes in the training school procedures back in the states from what combat crews were actually doing or new procedures that were working out at the front lines.
GUNNERY TRAINING AND "HOT PILOTS"
Our crew training continued at Barksdale Field. There were some short cross country night flights; gunnery and low level skip bombing practice. The gunnery was done in the Gulf of Mexico. On our trips south to the Gulf, the crew had to be always on the alert for other aircraft. Lake Charles which was closer to New Orleans was also a B-26 crew training base and their aircraft used the surrounding local airspace as well as the Gulf. Gallagher informed the entire crew to be especially watchful as to other aircraft and also all surface vessels in the Gulf. We would make a run fifty miles off the coast upwind checking for fishing boats, pleasure vessels, naval ships and cargo ships. Do a 180% turn and run downwind about 500 feet above the surface throwing out pages of newspapers. After about 10 miles and another 180% turn put us in a reverse course and heading upwind. We then informed the three gunners in the rear of the aircraft to start their test firing of the 50 caliber machine guns at the sheets of newspapers floating on the surface.
On the way back to Barksdale it was always a temptation to remain at the low level or even lower to buzz anything that came into view. Sometimes it was necessary to abruptly and quickly pull the nose of the aircraft upward to avoid windmills, water towers or tall trees. We passed over farmer fields, houses, barns, animals and black employees picking cotton or crops.
There were some "hot pilots" who pushed the throttles and rpm forward that caused "one hell of a thunderous noise" from those Pratt and Whitney R-2800 engines. Farmers shook many a fist at these low flying pilots. Black mothers ran and gathered their children around them and held them tightly to their aproned waist. The sound of the engines cancelled out the sound of their frightened screams and those of her children. These were all poor white and black farmers or sharecroppers and their children who had survived the great depression of the thirties and were still struggling to stay above the poverty level. The sudden loud noise of the airplane also caused the animals to go berserk horses ran around in frenzied circles. Cows took off in every direction, falling down rolling over, getting up and running off terrified like they were crazy and their freedom was confined by the fence surrounding the field.
If the farmer could get the numbers off the aircraft and call Barksdale Field there "would be hell to pay". The commanding officers treated such cases in a serious manner. One reported infraction was one too many. There would be punishment for buzzing too low and frightening the local population, driving the animals wild and endangering lives and property by this type of reckless flying. One pilot used the excuse that he was temporary lost and flew low over the rural railroad station so he could read the sign of the town's name. His commanding officer did not buy that. He was reprimanded and punished for his reckless disregard toward human beings and endangering government property (the airplane). Many a command office knew that these wild pilots would make good combat pilots.
While in training at Barksdale we had been told of a pilot who discovered the Huey Long Bridge over the Mississippi River near New Orleans. It looked high enough off of the water. The story goes that the pilot drove his car down there one weekend to check and measure the clearance and height of the bridge. Later that week he flew his B-26 under the bridge with a couple of yards to spare above the B-26's tall tail and just two yards to spare between the river and those big four bladed propellers. No one ever got the aircraft number so they didn't know who the pilot was. (Today, 60 years later, I was talking on the telephone to retired Charles Felker, one of our 558 Bomb Squadron association members, that I was writing this story and memtioned no one knew that daring pilot who flew under the bridge. In stunned silence I listened to Charles say "It was me." "I did it!" "After all these years I can now tell you, it was me." "Did they tell you there were two aircrafts involved?" "I said no!" Charles said, "there was also my buddy that followed me under that bridge. I did not consider myself a dare devil or a "hot pilot". Then I remember that during the war 1944 at Chipping Ongar, England, Charles flew his tour of missions in his assigned B-26 aircraft with nose art and the name "Hot Rock".
They are still looking for the "hot pilot" who was buzzing a rural road and came head on to a farmer driving an old pickup truck. The driver was so frightened by the approaching low flying aircraft he ducked, lost control of the car and both ended up in the ditch (The story teller assured us it was true).
BARKSDALE FIELD LOW LEVEL SKIP BOMBING TRAINING
A phase of our crew training was the skip bombing program. There was an auxiliary field bombing range about 10 miles east of Barksdale. The range was a long rectangular section of land with an eight foot high and 300 feet long wall constructed of tree trunks and stout, large limbs bolted together. It ran diagonally across the field at the far end. There was an observation tower off to one side with air force personnel to record the bomb hits on the wall or misses. The airplane flew a rectangular pattern around the field and turning on the base leg dropped down to 500 feet. On final approach to the wall, we were instructed to stay above 50 feet in elevation when the bomb was released because it could bounce right back up and hit the aircraft. The bombs used were practice bombs blue in color, loaded weight 100 Ibs. and could be fused with a shot gun shell in the nose or colored flour to mark the spot where it hit the wall.
The surrounding area was a rural farm area. Crops like cotton or vegetables and some fields were grassland suitable for grazing of livestock. The farm houses reflected the low income of the surrounding countryside. Many were one story, 2x4 frame construction with exterior covering of bat and boards. A small house would be rectangular in shape, 20 feet by 30 feet and usually called a "farmers shack".
On the day our training assignment called for low level skip bombing the aircraft was loaded with 10 practice bombs. We took off and located the range and checked in with the observation tower. We entered the pattern at 1000 feet, turned on the base leg then dropped down to 500 feet in altitude. Our bombardier, 2" Lt. Frank E. McKeown opened the bomb bay doors as we made our final turn to start the bomb run. We were about 50 feet above the ground heading for the barricade at the far end of the field. So far, so good. Using a D-8 bombsight Frank pushed the trigger on the lever and released one blue bomb. It hit the ground bounce up and down several times and headed straight for the wall. It was a good strike. Ed immediately applied power, climbed up and away into the blue as Frank closed the bomb bay doors. We headed out for another re-entry into the field pattern for the second run. As we made our base leg approach dropping down in altitude, from my co-pilot position I could see through the bombardier's entryway that Frank was having a problem in opening the bomb bay doors. He grabbed the lever forcibly and wiggled it back and forth. It finally worked and the bomb bay doors opened. We dropped down on the final approach, headed for the target and Frank released another bomb. It again skipped along the ground and banged into the wooden barricade fence leaving a white mark. Good! Another hit.
Ed again poured on the power, climbed up and away. Frank struggled with lever and finally closed the bomb bay doors.
We again re-entered the pattern for our third run. We made our first turn downwind. Frank again was having trouble moving the lever to open the bomb bay doors. He became upset and lifted up his left shoe and kicked the lever. It broke and fell forward. The bomb bay doors opened and the remaining eight practice bombs were salvoed - all at the same time. I quickly looked out my window. They were falling in a cluster and hit the ground going off in all directions. Below was a large green field with a small bat and board house with about fifty cows grazing. The cows went berserk. Like the bombs chasing them they took off in every direction, running into each other, stumbling, rolling on the ground or jumping up in the air to avoid the blue metal monsters. Some cows fell down, rolled over on their backs then got up and ran off. I must have said, "Oh Boy!" " Holy cow! Oh Boy!" Ed asked, "what's happening?" I started to explain the crazy scene below and with a gasp, I exclaimed, "Oh my God! I hope there is nobody in that shack!" as I watched in horror as two bombs tore through the front of the house. There was an explosion of pieces of bats and board wood at the rear of the house as an opening appeared and out came a steel bed, springs, mattress and blankets. It settled in a pile about 10 feet behind the shack.
Ed put the airplane into a sharp steep turn and looking down saw the whole scene. The cows were going crazy running to a corner of the field, one of the animals was laying on the ground with her four legs pointing skyward. The house was damaged with pieces of wood and the bed pile scattered around. It was not a good picture. Ed said, "I think we have a serious problem". He quickly turned and headed the airplane back to Barksdale and called the tower to explain what happened. "Barksdale Tower this is aircraft 876. We have had a malfunction of our bomb racks and it salvoed all our practice bombs into a farmers field of cows and it looks like we damaged the house. We are returning to Barksdale Field".
There was a meeting with the operation officer, our commanding officer and engineers to explain what happened. We then showed them the location of the farmer's field on a map. They quickly dispatched an engineer and a medical unit. That evening we were informed that no one was at home when the practice bombs went through the house, but we had killed a cow.
The next morning when we walked into the mess hall for breakfast, we were greeted by "moo calls". Many of the other crews with smirks, puckered up their lips and made cow noises, "moo!, moo!, moo!" This was followed by finger pointing and lots of laughter and pitched noses (like something smelled or had died). How embarrassing could it get? Our crew was the laughing stock of the base that morning.
Our training officer informed us that would have to do another skip bombing run that morning to complete that part of our training. We suited up took our parachutes and went out to the assigned aircraft. It was not the same aircraft we had the previous day. We noticed a lot of the other crews were standing around watching us. What is going on? We walked up to the aircraft and looked at it! What a shock! Painted on the nose of the fuselage below the pilots window was a painting of a cow. The cow was lying on her back with the four legs straight up pointing to the sky; the eyes had black crosses, its long pink tongue hung out of the side of her mouth of a twisted head, its tail curved around its body like a question mark and a big black cross x'ed over her entire body. Below the nose art was the lettering, "The Moo-Moo Bomber".
The enlisted man painter also printed the name of Lt. Ed Gallagher under the pilots window and just below that a miniature sized cow with the "X" body replica of the larger nose art painting which signified "One Victory-One kill". Instead of a bomb symbol it was a "X'ed" cow.
We completed our skip bombing training that morning. We noticed as we flew over the damaged shack and property during our 10 bombing trips that there were several trucks of lumber parked next to the house and at least three carpenters were repairing the building. The Colonel told us they also had to replace the bed and to pay for the dead cow.
ARTIST SKETCH OF THE NOSE ART OF THE DEAD COW ON THE B-26 AT